Visions of Johanna
Johanna, an artist, and Matt, a music critic, couldn't be more different, but by some twist of fate, she plucks him from a crowd at a Dylan concert. What follows is a heady and intense relationship buffeted by the usual suspects that gently rocked the '80s. Matt's lessons in art-as well as life-at the hands of Johanna, drive the novel into pockets of feminism and quiet revolution. All of this is tempered by deeply held secrets.
A meditation on art and unrest, Visions of Johanna celebrates life, love, memory and the undying power of the deep connections that sustain us. The novel follows Johanna and Matt as they pursue their dreams. But burdening problems collide with these artistic desires and other forces conspire against them. Ultimately, the two are done in by their inability to share aspects of their past they believe they must hide from.
Within this book's pages, tragedies haunt, acts of moral goodness manifest themselves, and benevolence reigns with a finality that absolves all."
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About the Author
Peter Sarno taught literature and memoir courses at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and has published essays, reviews, and short stories. While a graduate student at UMASS, he won the Donald E Cookson prize in nonfiction. His work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Music World magazine, Sweet Po-tato, Gannet newspapers, Gatehouse Media, and oth-er outlets. Visions of Johanna is his first published novel.
Sarno writes with a fine descriptive hand...The culture and feel of past and present experiences merge with each character's perspective to create a medley of roller-coaster days that succinctly create a 'you are here' feel. ...a thought-provoking, evocative love story firmly rooted in a sense of place and time.-- "--Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review"
Sarno explores many heavy and formidable topics, but with sensitivity and delicacy...A heartfelt and fascinating narrative about the urgency of human connection. A beautifully intimate romance...-- "--Publishers Weekly's BookLife"
What sets it apart from so many novels in the genre is Sarno's tenderly honest depiction of the complexities of real-life relationships--the way the past can haunt them, the way pleasure and uncertainty can mingle in any given hour, the way a small, kind gesture or ill-chosen word can draw lovers together or shove them apart. ...The novel wraps you in its embrace and doesn't let go until the last word on the last page. Johanna is one of the more intriguing characters I've encountered in modern fiction, and the narration is so natural and true-seeming that readers will wonder if she's been plucked straight from life and set on the page. ...A moving, enlightening, and truly enjoyable read.-- "--Roland Merullo, Author: Breakfast with Buddha "
Johanna and Matt's romance is deep and intense, but the distance between Boston and the Big Apple presents many challenges. . . .Sarno, an award-winning nonfiction author, literature professor, and journalist, paints an evocative portrait of New York and Boston in the '80s, with nods to an eclectic group of musicians ranging from Dylan and Joan Jett to Debbie Gibson. The details of Matt's backstory are rich and intriguing . . .-- "--Kirkus Reviews"
Well-written with deeply complex characters and many different beautiful settings, Visions of Johanna is worth reading more than once. ...I really enjoyed the discussion questions at the end of the book and feel this would be a perfect book club book. With questions that address the concepts of faith and hope to the efforts put towards the women's movement, there is a lot that can be talked about in this novel. Detailed, wonderfully written, and thought-provoking, Visions of Johanna will have readers thinking long after they put the book down.
--Kristi Elizabeth, Manhattan Book Review--Kristi Elizabeth "Manhattan Book Review"
Sarno's Visions of Johanna traverses a wide expanse of territory: geographic, emotional and experiential. From the working-class streets of Revere, Massachusetts, to rural Wisconsin and the East Village--from neighborhood kids' baseball, to feminist film festivals and Dylan concerts--from childhood tragedy to unfulfilled love and middle-aged emotional breakthroughs. It's a highly charged, loaded book told through unflinching prose--clean, precise, never decorative--lyrical and at times poetic. I always know I'm reading good writing when I get to the end of passages and think: I wish I wrote that!--Joseph Torra, author of My Ground Trilogy--Joseph Torra "Joseph Torra, author of My Ground Trilogy"
Taking its title from the famous song, Visions of Johanna, Peter Sarno's debut novel is imbued with the lyricism and dark romance of many of Dylan's most poignant compositions. Told in the first person, Sarno writes eloquently about the struggles of balancing creative aspirations with personal relationships. The majority of the novel is set in the 1980s and Sarno evokes the era well. ...Sarno writes about music and musicians with some style. A moment in which Matt watches Johanna at a Janis Ian concert is skillfully rendered. Elsewhere he writes brilliantly on art--especially when viewed from a feminist perspective. A passage interpreting Judy Chicago's Dinner Party is particularly astute. Throughout the novel the interplay between the two leads is beautifully modulated. Any frustration felt by the reader in the characters inability to properly connect is deftly explained by the slow reveal of each character's hidden history. Visions of Johanna is an engaging, mature and compelling debut novel which, though comparatively short, carries great emotional weight. --Kent Lane for IndieReader--Kent Lane "IndieReader"
Visions of Johanna is a beautifully written literary novel about an unlikely pairing. Matt, a young, freelance music critic during the 1980's . . . Johanna, a flamboyant feminist and artist seven years his senior. . . . Something is off about their romance. . . .Sarno keeps the mystery a secret until the book's powerful and surprising final chapters. . . . His use of metaphors and lush language draws readers into the story. . . . Readers must be patient, allowing Matt to confront his past on his own terms. However, Sarno's subtle approach makes the denouement that much stronger. Indeed, as the story reaches its affecting conclusion, readers may shed a tear or two before the final page is turned. --BlueInk starred review-- "BlueInk starred review"
Matt's internal contradictions direct much of the text. ...Though it follows long periods of emotional repression, his eventual growth is formidable and cathartic. . . .Matt's childhood traumas are best explored near the book's end. . . [and] this exploration is among the reflective features used to capture profound heartache. . . . Visions of Johanna is a somber literary coming-of-age novel in which a man confronts his repressed emotions in the midst of a tumultuous relationship.
--Aimee Jodoin, Foreword Clarion Reviews--Aimee Jodoin "Foreword Clarion Reviews"
"A gentle masterpiece!"
Susan Cheever --, author of Louisa May Alcott A Personal Biography, Drinking in America: Our Secret History, and 14 other works of fiction and non-fiction--Susan Cheever "Susan Cheever --, author of Louisa May Alcott A Personal Biography, Drinking in America: Our Secret History, and 14 other works of fiction and non-fiction"
A deeply moving and romantic tale of young people, artists and would-be bohemians struggling to find themselves and their place in the world.... Sarno's wide-ranging novel wrestles with questions of class, family, art and the limits of ambition. It will sweep you along from the first page to the last.
--Askold Melnyczuk, author of Ambassador of the Dead--Askold Melnyczuk "--Askold Melnyczuk, author of Ambassador of the Dead"
"Beautifully crafted with extraordinary depth, Visions of Johanna is a timeless love story, a lyrical tale about the complexities of artistic ambition, and a thought-provoking, contemporary reflection on the human condition. Peter Sarno's debut will leave you wanting for nothing more than his next novel." --Lisa Duffy, author of My Kind of People--Lisa Duffy "Lisa Duffy"